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Learn about using Amazon AppStream to stream resource-gobbling apps

In this feature, contributor Caroline de Lacvivier answers frequently asked questions about Amazon Web Services' new developer tool, Amazon AppStream.

One of the leading announcements at the 2013 Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent conference was the launch of Amazon AppStream, a service that lets developers build sophisticated applications that users can stream from the cloud. Initially available for limited preview, this technology promises to override device limitations such as processing power and memory storage.

In announcing AppStream, Andy Jassy, Amazon senior vice president of AWS, said AppStream applications would seem to come directly from end-user devices. The quality of cloud streaming, he said, was that good.

Following are a few answers to frequently asked questions about Amazon AppStream to help IT teams decide whether the new service meets their needs.

How does Amazon AppStream work?

Amazon AppStream's primary benefit is its ability to stream resource-intensive apps to mass-market devices.

AppStream allows AWS developers to stream high-powered, resource-demanding applications from the cloud, giving end users access to complex apps such as three-dimensional games and high-definition content on a wide variety of devices.

Developers have the option to stream whole applications or just the fragments that demand more computing power. That capability makes it possible to write all or portions of the code, and to make in-the-moment changes to the software.

What is the Amazon AppStream STX Protocol?

It is a proprietary protocol used to stream application audio and video over a variety of network conditions. It also sends user input over TCP back to the app. Network conditions are measured throughout and the data is sent back to the server so the streaming video and audio can be altered accordingly.

What applications are best suited to Amazon AppStream?

The service is designed for applications that demand a lot of computing power or storage space. For that reason, it's best suited for apps that are too heavy to run natively. That category includes games, interactive videos, photo-editing programs and 3D-rendering applications. It's also possible to host a portion of these apps natively and to stream the rest from the cloud. That said, applications that don't respond well to latency wouldn't be well-suited to streaming, which always involves wait time to load.

What are the benefits of Amazon AppStream?

The primary benefit is the service's ability to stream resource-intensive apps to mass-market devices. This capability resolves developers' ongoing struggle to build apps for a wide variety of hardware and all its inherent limitations. Ultimately, this saves the time and expense associated with coding for different devices.

AppStream also simplifies updates, which no longer require any user initiation. Developers have only to provide a new version of the app to AppStream and the software will automatically update on the device. Also, because the data streams directly from the cloud, users will be spared time-consuming downloads and installations. In terms of security, AppStream apps are stored in AWS data centers and, for that reason, aren't subject to the same vulnerabilities as native apps (for example, reverse engineering and theft).

Are there any possible drawbacks to Amazon AppStream?

Latency is always a factor where streaming is concerned and it will take the AppStream application some time to react to user commands. Amazon claims to have optimized the capture and encoding process in order to minimize latency as much as possible, but variable network conditions will sometimes cause a lag in response time when apps run over the Internet.  That also means AppStream apps won't be able to run offline.  A workaround would be to run part of the application natively.

How does Amazon AppStream pricing work?

During the limited preview, the service is free and you can run up to 10 simultaneous streams. When AppStream is commercially available, Amazon will collect a fee for every hour a customer streams content.

How can companies get started with Amazon AppStream?

At this writing, developers can request access for the limited preview of AppStream. Amazon said that, as space becomes available, it will fulfill requests with instructions on accessing the limited preview.

This was first published in January 2014

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